The travellers: Science of out of body experiences
Hyderabad: Daljeet (name changed) remembers “everything” about the accident 20 years ago. There was his bike, the car that had screeched to a stop ahead of him and that sickening moment he went headlong into glass and metal.
“I have never been able to properly describe what happened that night. I have, however, recounted the story at least 5,000 times to friends, family and experts. Seconds after the crash, I felt myself floating into a sleep… I guess my body had given up. And then suddenly, I was hovering a few feet away from the scene and looking at the crowd — no smell, no breathing but surrounded by throbbing lights and a strange humming.
Doctors would later say the glass from the car had blinded me and that my head and neck had taken a massive jolt rendering me unconscious. But I still remember the face of the man who had first pulled me out, him screaming, ‘Usko uthao, usko uthao’, and my torn blue shirt. Two months later, I surprised my mother with the details of the accident and that’s when it occurred to me, I was outside my body for maybe a minute. I was also able to vividly describe my rescuers and as the years passed, my descriptions went from family discussions to at least 10 counselling sessions.”
But Daljeet believes that just one of his therapists may have really paid any attention to his story.
“The others claimed my brain had simply gone into this ‘safe mode’ to protect itself and me. They said it was a natural reaction; but what about those faces, the model of the ambulance vehicle…what about those details? I would like to believe it was an experience, a moment of clarity in which I was between worlds.”
Then, there’s the case presented by a leading surgeon from Hyderabad.
“During one of the several surgeries I’ve had over the years, a nurse happened to comment on the body of one of the patients on the operating table. She said she was ‘fat’ and that it was getting increasingly difficult to manoeuver amidst all the flab. There’s no possible way the patient could’ve heard the comment, but two days later, following recovery, I walked into a massive argument between staff and the patient and we had to apologise. It was the strangest thing. How did a patient, breathing through a machine, with her chest open, hear a whisper?”
Year 2014 has been especially crucial for the study because a 24-year-old student has finally been able to prove to doctors that ‘traveling outside the body’ is indeed possible, at will.
Researchers at the University of Ottawa — Andra Smith and Claude Messier — experimented on a young psychology graduate who claimed she could just “float away”, before going into a full, natural sleep and that she’s been “travelling” since she was a toddler. What the researchers found was interesting and dealt with a much-debated notion — we’re all born with this ability.
Through the use of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, the two experts were able to study the student’s ability and have since classified it under “extra-corporeal experiences”, in which there’s a “deactivation of vision”, following which the left side of the brain kicks in with “kinesthetic imagery” (mental representations of bodily movement) allowing people to feel as if they’re floating.
This is what the two stunned Ottawa researchers wrote in the journal, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience: “The participant described her experience as one she began performing as a child when bored with ‘sleep time’ at pre-school. She continued to perform this experience as she grew up assuming that ‘everyone could do it’. She appeared surprised that not everyone could experience this.”
The two experts have also agreed that the Canadian student is the first human being ever studied to have “an ECE on demand without any brain abnormalities”.
Which now takes us to an individual who has been having such experiences since he was 12 and who once predicted a terror attack in London, five days before the event itself — world-renowned specialist in OBEs (out of body experience) and parapsychology Graham Nicholls.
“It was during a workshop on OBE, that I suddenly felt this massive emotional weight crushing me, and seconds later, I found myself standing in the middle of London, maybe two or three feet from the ground. Then it happened — the blast, triggering chaos and confusion. I was right in the middle of it and when I was coaxed back by those attending the workshop and I told them about what I had seen, the room went utterly quiet. Many seemed to agree that it was a premonition.”
It was. Five days later, on April 30, 1999, two people were killed and 30 hurt in the nail bomb blast that had gone off inside a pub in Soho, close to where Graham’s ‘projection’ was standing. It was this blast that he had seen and his description of the event five days ago strangely matched those from the live TV images of the blast site.
Nicholls has since tried hard to investigate what happened during that workshop. “All of us possess an ability, an awareness and a response to natural stimuli, but much of this is currently within the box that’s modern science. We have to see these abilities without dogma, without shackles of religion, traditional beliefs etc. Having an open mind to discover the abilities of the brain is key,” says Nicholls.
Currently in Estonia, Nicholls takes us back to his first OBE, at age 12. “I found myself maybe 500 metres from my physical body. I was vertical, hovering… surrounded by this light and being held by this energy around me. I have been having these OBEs… they’re more regular now since I seem to have perfected a technique to achieve them. And during those experiences, when you see your physical body lying below you, it’s almost like looking at a photograph of yourself.
“Inside, every being, lies an ability to transcend the physical form. A liberation that allows for experiences far from our physical location. More importantly, we must understand this one point — the consciousness does survive a physical end and there is a part of us that moves on.”
Unfortunately, that part of the human form is currently hidden under the sheets of cure-focused healthcare and limited research into neurology. But good ol’ science is fast catching up and in beautiful Portugal, experts from the International Academy of Consciousness, or the IAC, are currently hard at work to organise the world’s first Congress of Conscientiology on May 24, 2015 — a worldwide event that aims to host debates “centered upon the consciousness”.
But that’s not the only reason why the IAC is in focus. Within the vast expanse of its campus, lies the “Projectarium” — the world’s first facility “completely optimised for having out-of-body experiences”,.
“It’s sort of like Cerebro from X-Men,” jokes Nelson Abreu, vice-director of Research and Scientific Communi-cation at the non-profit IAC.
“OBEs and astral travels genuinely help people in understanding a higher consciousness, to understand a power that goes beyond the generally explained,” says Abreu, who himself has been “traveler”.
“I started at 16,” says Abreu, who has a fantastic story. “I once travelled to a friend’s place, saw the flowers that were on his table and then saw that he had a visitor. Later, I surprised him with the details of my vision and he was stunned. People who have experienced OBEs are stronger, have made a certain peace with the ‘inevitable end’ and agree that the consciousness is so much more than just existing and getting to work in a t-shirt. They understand that they’re just parts of a greater canvas.”
Abreu is also confident that he is a “living example” of the difference between OBEs and plain, simple dreams. “It’s the detailing that you remember. You will be able to levitate, to push yourself through walls and see with clarity the objects that have been so far hidden from your view.”
In an interview, Abreu reveals how he transported himself to the lobby of the hotel he was staying in. “I saw logos of what appeared to have been an event of some sort and the staff later admitted that there had been an expo at their hotel and my descriptions of the banners were a perfect match.”
Where we stand
OBEs, NDEs (near-death experiences) and astral projections are obviously waiting for scientific validation. For a certificate of quantified analysis that’ll use maths, bleeding-edge neurology, biology and who knows, even physics. The question of “where do we go once it’s over’ could one day, in all probability, be answered by those who are currently chasing “fringe science”. But for Daljeet, Nelson Abreau, Graham Nicholls and a hundred others, it’s just a matter of time.
“For example, we may dismiss the ramblings of that elderly relative. But there’s this much-debated case in the UK, where an old man, close to his death, told doctors his sister had come to visit him. It was later revealed that the sister had passed away three days ago and the news was kept from him. Cases of ‘visits’ are common. It’s just that we fail to understand what the consciousness is capable of.”
And Daljeet is confident that he will give his experience another shot at validation. “Nobody saw what I saw because I truly did see… there was light, not from headlamps but from a source radiating from all around me. I wish I could draw the scene.”
Abreu agrees. “It depends on a person. Some see relatives, some a deity and some, just a ‘being’. But yes, people have spoken of that light before.”
For years to come then, much of this subject runs the risk of being talked about in whispers. But even as we look for water on planets millions of kilometres away, science must understand that there’s so much more to be discovered right inside the bodies we live in.
Because there seems to be a place some of us have gone to… we don’t know if it’s warm or cold there, or if it smells of lilies, pouring rain, because in truth, we have not even arrived at the doors of that place.